BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The formal counting of write-in ballots for the Buffalo mayor’s race began Wednesday, more than two weeks after incumbent Byron Brown appeared to have enough votes to hold off a challenge from Democratic nominee India Walton.

With Election Night and absentee votes counted, the Board of Elections reported there were 36,439 write-ins cast versus 25,198 votes for Walton (59.1% to 40.9%). That means Brown needs about 69% of the write-ins confirmed as votes for him before he can be officially declared the winner.

The Board counted 5,750 write-in votes Wednesday. Of that lot, 5,705 (99.2%) were for Brown, indicating the mayor is indeed on path to win an unprecedented fifth term.

Ben Carlisle received 43 write-in votes and William O’Dell got two votes while fellow write-in candidates Jaz Miles and Miles Carter didn’t get any in the first lot of ballots that was counted, which made up 45 of 291 districts.

Elections officials said less than a dozen write-in votes reviewed Wednesday were invalid or contested.

This count is expected to take at least three days to complete, perhaps longer.

“There’s never been this size of a write in as far as anyone can tell in the State of New York,” said Jeremy Zellner, the Democratic commissioner for the BOE.

Ballots are being counted at five tables which feature a Democrat and a Republican representative sitting across from each other. Together, they decide if a write-in vote should count and who it counts for. The Brown and Walton campaigns have someone watching at each table.

“We’ll raise an issue if it deviates from what it is we want; the bipartisan canvassers will judge it right then and there,” said Jesse Myerson, Walton’s campaign spokesperson. “They’ll make a copy for us of anything we object to so that we can have that for our records should we decide at a later date whether to pursue any sort of action.”

Elections commissioners from both parties told News 4 prior to the election that write-ins do not need to be spelled perfectly to count.

“I think if you have someone who writes ‘Brown,’ that’s going to count,” Zellner said. “And I have a feeling that most write-ins were done properly given that the bubbles were bubbled in for them.”

“I don’t think there’ll be many disagreements among the employees at the Board of Elections,” Republican elections commissioner Ralph Mohr said. “We’re in the process of trying to count votes, not disqualify votes.”

Write-in candidate Jaz Miles was also on hand to watch.

“It’s part of the great American process, so one of the greatest things you could ever have in life is the opportunity to vote and express your opinion on paper of who you like and who you want, so the ability to check everything and see that everything’s on the up and up or just to have your point of view taken is a great thing,” Miles said.

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

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Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here.